Gospel: Luke 20:27-38 1st Reading: Job 19:23-27a
2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
We’re starting to give some thought to Thanksgiving. We were planning to do it on our own, but now Nick’s Oma is planning to be there from Northern California and she and Sterling haven’t met, yet. So now we are going to Nick’s sister’s house.
Thanksgiving dinners at our house growing up meant grandmas and grandpas, aunts, uncles and cousins. It meant the entire day before devoted to making pies, tearing apart bread for stuffing, thawing the turkey, washing table cloths and the good china, and making sure there would be enough chairs. I remember baking pies with my mom with the pumpkin from our Halloween Jack-o-lanterns and saving aside the giblets from the turkey for the stuffing or gravy. I remember our homemade centerpieces—usually something we had put together at school. I remember being both thrifty and lavish at the same time.
The past 17 Thanksgivings we've made our own traditions. When we first moved away to go to seminary, we spent those holidays on our own. We tried our parent's traditions. I remember one year making a whole turkey. It was a little overwhelming for two people. That year I even boiled the bones to make broth. We ate leftovers and froze them and ate them for months. Other years we joined with friends in their Thanksgivings. One year we had friends over who were vegan. We made a wonderful vegan pumpkin cheesecake that we've actually made a couple more times. I remember one year bringing one of our favorite sides—stir fried peppered snake beans to a friends to contribute to the dinner. And since we've been back in Oregon, we've planned Thanksgivings with our families, but every single year for 9 years one of us has been sick on Thanksgiving.
This year it is going to be different! This year I am determined to wash my hands and stay away from sickies and not work myself sick so that we can go see Oma on Thanksgiving. Still, it won't be all the same family traditions. They will certainly do their Thanksgiving. But we're vegetarian, and we have new traditions that we have created. Maybe we’ll bring pumpkin vegan cheesecake or stir fried peppered snake beans. The reading from 2 Thessalonians says to “hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.” This makes me a little bit nervous, because we've departed from the traditions of our families and made our own traditions in our family. And I get nervous because sometimes traditions can be distractions from the will of God for churches instead of helping to bring us closer to God. The truth is, traditions can be both good and bad.
The best of our traditions give us an anchor to the past and all that was good about it. They give us a memory of our history and a link to the ones we've loved both living and living in the next life. They remind us of why we're here. And they give us something to do when we otherwise might not know what to do. When we were living away from family and friends, we tried those traditions and sometimes they just made us more homesick, but other times they connected us in meaningful ways. It was a tradition to call home on any holiday—a chance to reconnect and say, “I love you.” I think of our traditions around death—sending sympathy cards, bringing food, praying, remembering. Those traditions bring so much comfort and closure, help the living to find peace, find meaning in life and death and suffering and grief, bring people together so they know they aren't alone, and eventually move forward with hope.
The worst of our traditions has us stuck in the past, rigid, thinking this is the only way to do things, feeling lost if the ritual isn't quite done the way we expected, and disconnected or angry at people who have different traditions. In the Gospel for today, the Sadducees ask about a tradition, marriage. They don't really care about the answer to their question—they are just trying to pull a gotcha on Jesus. It doesn't fit with these traditions that Paul is saying are so important. Of course Jesus isn't shaken. He points out that marriage is a tradition that is for this age. It is to help order society, to protect women and children, and so baby daddies can make sure those are their genes they are passing on. Jesus is saying that that our traditions serve a purpose and that is to make sure all are cared for. It's a kind of buddy system to make sure we are all safe. It is a system to make sure that all have life abundant. That's what resurrection is for, too. It is to ensure life abundant for all. In the age to come, we'll all be living in resurrection, so we don't need this imperfect institution of marriage to make sure that all have life, because we all will by definition.
What is this resurrection life that Jesus is talking about? Do we have to die to experience resurrection? No. We can experience it to a certain extent in marriage. When marriage really works like it is supposed to, it honors and protects all involved. And we are invited to live resurrection more fully in all our relationships. Jesus has ushered in this new age where we are all related to each other—where we are all brothers and sisters, as responsible for one another's welfare as if they were our own families. So does this mean we just throw away our old traditions? No. They still can help guide us. They can help us not spread ourselves too thin. They help dictate who we relate to, because we can't relate to everyone. We start with those in our immediate vicinity. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
I don’t know if it is a tradition yet that we gather food for Backpack Buddies at Milwaukie Elementary. But it is certainly a tradition to feed and care for the hungry. They are our neighbor kids. Their well-being closely relates to our well being and the well being of our communities. But since Jesus is ushering in a new era where everyone is our neighbor, we also write to our legislators about continuing to fund food stamps and our church sends offerings for hungry children around the world and we carry a granola bar and some clean socks to hand to people begging at the corner when we're about to get on the freeway. Resurrection life can be lived in so many ways. There is no one right way to do it. Different situations call for different ways of living it. It is the resurrection life that is the tradition that we are to hold fast to, rather than getting caught up in the specifics. Some might give to Backpack buddies, some might sing in the choir, some might go vegetarian, some might give up their car. There are just so many options in the tradition of living the resurrection life that Jesus offers us.
Resurrection life gives us the benefit of the past and all that we’ve learned and been raised with without getting stuck to it, always looking back to better days. And Resurrection life keeps us hopeful about the future without getting into all the specifics of what it will be like in this life or the next, which we just can’t know and don’t need to. Resurrection life is living right now with what we’ve got, honoring our traditions to be self-sacrificing, generous, grateful, loving, unafraid, and alive.
Jesus gives us resurrection life right now, not just after we die. It is an opportunity for the living. Jesus gives us all this life in the present moment so that all our Thanksgivings can be appreciation of all that God has given us. And even when we do get stuck in the past or future, or forget to thank God, or get dragged down in the minutiae of the place settings or recipes or in an argument over the football game or who is coming and who isn’t, still God loves us and sends the Son to show us that love and to welcome us to God’s Thanksgiving dinner so that we can welcome others and make sure that all are fed and have access to resurrection life today.